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Monday, December 30, 2013

The prerequisite retrospective . . .

I rang in New Year 2013 with friends, but not with the special somebody I wanted to be with, and that sorta set a precedent for the rest of the year - a lot of time with my heart and soul in one place, my body in another and my head often missing in action. It hasn't been an easy year but, looking back, I've learned much from it and gained in the learning.

And now, as we prepare for 2014, I'm reasonably at peace. I won't spend this New Year with a special somebody either, but I will spend it with new friends, and that is pretty special. I'll also spend it in a new country that I am just beginning to scratch the surface of, for good and bad. And I'll spend it, as I did Christmas, connected via the interwebs to a huge network of friends, family, colleagues and fellow adventurers that make my world that much more exciting.

Two years ago, as I cooked a special New Year's meal for my intended, my plans for where I would be today were not where I am now. But that's always the way with plans, isn't it? The trick to enjoying life to its utmost, which I admit I forgot for a while this year, is to accept the blows life deals you, roll with them and bounce back up. Or even better, to use an aikido philosophy, accept the energy aimed against you, welcome it and redirect it.

So, no New year's resolutions, as I'm not a believer in them, just a choice to continue to look for the best in everything and treat myself and others the best I can. To continue to try to be kinder, more considerate and try have more empathy for others. And to ride this wild roller coaster called life as long and as well as I can.

May 2014 bring you all love, light and laughter, good friends, good health and peace. And for those of us who welcome such things, may it bring excitement, adventure and really wild things.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

and a pukeko in a ponga tree . . .

It's almost Christmas . . .

It won't by any means be my first Christmas away from home - I think I've only had one Christmas with the "right" weather in 10 or 12 years. That, for Antipodeans, means a day of scorching sun during which you laze at the most convenient gorgeous water hole, scoffing strawberries and cherries and fresh stone fruit, and possibly some cold glazed ham.

For most of my childhood, Christmas was spent at Eskdale River, where we would swim and play ball games and climb trees and gorge on fabulous food.

In Australia, the Brits would take over Bondi beach and everyone else in Sydney would find a quieter, cleaner piece of coast - luckily that's easy in Oz. But by that stage, I was working, mainly in restaurants, so I would offer to work Christmas so those with families could spend it with them. Tips were good and you're guaranteed a Christmas dinner when you work in a hotel, bar or restaurant.

I also offered to work Christmas when I returned home and fell into journalism. It was always an odd day to work as a reporter - half "Fluffy Bunny" stories and half tragedies that were more tragic because of the day. Christmas is always good for a couple of tragedies, if you look in the right places.

So I'm accustomed to not having a typical Christmas, but I seem to have formed a few traditions of my own along the way. In Dunedin, New Zealand, if I wasn't working at Christmas, friends and I would spend it at a favorite Chinese restaurant that served great (for Dunedin, NZ) dim sum.

There's some irony in remembering that this year, as I wonder where I can go for a meal that isn't Chinese, pizza or wings - the main choices in my immediate neighborhood.

In Korea, I experienced my first winter Christmas and my first white Christmas, and it was much more traditional. Ham, turkey, rare roast beef - all the trimmings. And eggnog - that's where I first encountered eggnog (I could make my own here, a great chef friend sent me a recipe, but I'm a little wary of imbibing raw eggs in China).

And I've adopted friends' seasonal traditions also. I've been scouring the Western marts for a piece of corned silverside because a dear friend's mother makes corned beef for New Year (and it makes great hash), and two years ago, I cooked it for the first time. That is now part of the season for me.

So, this year, my first in China, I'm interested to see what may become part of my own Christmas tradition. It definitely won't be a tree and gifts and children, but I plan for it to still be full of joy and wonder and appreciation.

And the gifts may not be wrapped, but instead at the other end of an international call or skype but. hey, if that's my Christmas, I will be thankful for it.

I hope you are all thankful for yours . . .

Friday, December 13, 2013

Have yourself a merry little Christmas . . .

Tis the season . . . 

The week before Christmas, when I was 17, my mother had just left an brief, ill-fated, ill-matched marriage and was living in rental accommodation two doors away from a gang headquarters with my younger brother and sister. 

Prior to the marriage, she had worked incredibly hard for many years, saved every cent she could and almost paid off the house we lived in. She cashed that in when she married, put it into her new relationship (it's a family trait to give your all to what you believe in) and, when it didn't work out, walked away with nothing financially (we're also fiercely proud).

I wasn't there at the time. I'd left home and left town and was pretending to be an independent adult in a city as far away as I could manage at the time. I don't know what she was thinking, because it was something we could never ask her about, but I imagine she felt she'd let us down, with Christmas fast approaching and not even a tree, let alone gifts. Decorating the house at Christmas had always been a big thing growing up.

That's only what I imagine, because I was hours away, until I got the call to come home.

Mum was in hospital, having tried to burn down the house with herself in it. She had, of course, put my younger brother and sister in a cab and sent them to my sister's before she did so. She always looked out for us before herself. 

She survived, was put into a psychiatric ward and didn't recognize us for months. Family and friends rallied round and found a new house for her, we did the best we could as children going through trauma but we also bumped and rubbed and abraded each other in the process. I think that we, the children, have forgiven each other for the blame that was thrown around recklessly at the time, but we were never really close before and have been less so since.

I believe we do try to understand each other, and why we are who we are.

So I know, firsthand, the pressure this time of year can put on people.

I also know the alternative . . .

That Christmas, and birthdays, and all the festivities and dates we celebrate are simply that - dates. That, yes, it's all marketing, and Christmas is just a date taken by the Christians from a pagan festivity to make it their own and then taken by corporations to make it their own, as with Thanksgiving, and Easter, and every other Hallmark Card occasion we are expected to celebrate (read: buy gifts). 

But, and this is a big BUT, they can also be reminders to truly celebrate the people who matter. 

How about we stop treating them as mandatory celebrations and start treating them as reminders?

"Hey, it's Christmas, have I told you how amazing you are?"

"It's your birthday, let's celebrate you being in the world and part of my life!"

Even, "I am so sorry you are gone, but I thank you for all you taught me and am happy I knew you."

We have options - we always have options.

The year my mother succeeded in ending her life (forgive me if I sound at all flippant here, I am anything but), she did so at the end of November. I couldn't face going home so instead went to stay with a dear friend in the US. She and her son were going to Chicago to visit her mother for Christmas and invited me along but I really wasn't up for a family Christmas. Another friend invited me to go to Seattle with him and his partner to spend time with his family. I wasn't up for that either.

Instead, I stayed in Alexandria and walked my friend's dogs and threw sticks in the snow and spent Christmas Day helping feed homeless people at the Washington Cathedral.

And learned, in the depth of my despair, a little gratitude. Learned that the most important thing isn't the gift or the wrapping, but the care and love that goes along with it. No matter who it is for . . .

This Christmas, I'm missing someone else from my life. And, as always when you truly care, sometimes it hurts so bad it seems unbearable.

But it's not. I'm alive, and by being alive I carry within me the lessons learned from my mother (who, by the way, was an incredible person, please don't misjudge that) and all those I have loved during my life, and I hope the painful parts have served to make me better understand the pain of others.

And the only presents I desire are those I already have - the love and friendship of those I love and care for, the care of friends and colleagues, the understanding of my family.

I will try to offer the same in return . . .